I’ll Take “Totally Unfair” For $500, Alex

In long distance races, runners who need to bolster their energy suck down a liquid carbohydrate called GU.  GU is an energy that comes in different flavors– chocolate, banana (vomitous), cappuccino– and go down smoothly.  The jolt of energy is immediate; legs run faster, spirits soar higher; miles melt away.

I’ma need a GU to keep going on this project.   Come day 10 of this exercise, I will need to swallow something sweet to amp me up and propel me through the next stretch of days.

But today is only Day 6.  I knew one of my days would have to involve Cancer because John Green.  Today is that day.


(PS: Tomorrow I am not posting my story because I have something else to post, but don’t think that doesn’t mean I’m not writing.  Posting and writing: Two different things.)

* * *

Day 6:  Last Rights



Mom and I did a heroic job not fighting in the hospital. Every time a new nurse came on shift, she’d invariably comment, “It’s so nice to see a mother and daughter getting along.” The religious ones saw the hand of God in our relationship. (It was a Catholic hospital.) I guess the thinking was that God must have given my mother the strength to side by my side all those weeks. To me, I guess they thought God bestowed the strength to fight the tumors. Most of the time I was either too drugged up on morphine or too tired to care what manifestations of the spirit they projected on me.


Most of the time, I was content to doze in and out of consciousness, watching my mother read her Nora Roberts or flip through the TV stations. She hated to stop on the news because it was depressing, and she knew I needed “positivity.” The only show I remember her watching from start to finish was Jeopardy! She’d stand up and clap when she got an answer right and squeeze my hand when I whispered the right answer for final jeopardy. She always forgot to phrase her answer as a question, which bugged me for some stupid reason.


I should have known that all that peaceful time would come at a cost. We’d gone almost three weeks without so much as an eye roll (from me) or an exaggerated sigh (from her). Our antiseptic idyll was bound to crumble and be ground to dust, like the bones of my femur, patella and the right side of my face.


It was a Sunday morning and she’d been flipping around looking for anything other than the coverage of Tiger Woods’ shameful eviction from his Florida home at the hands of his golf-club-wielding wife. “That’s irony for you,” Mom said, laughing as she zoomed past CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews.


What made her settle on the televised broadcast of the evangelical preacher—the one with bigger teeth than Bobby Kennedy and boofier hair than half the retirees in West Palm Beach? If only she’d had the stomach for George Stephanopolous or Anderson Cooper, then maybe our last words to each other wouldn’t have been screamed at the top of our lungs over the protests of the head nurse and the resident (radiology) who happened to be passing by when I threw the remote control at the window.


I snapped. It’s true. The toothy preacher told a seven-minute story about young cancer patient (just like me!) who had such immense faith in God that she never once questioned Him. “She never let her cancer get her down, she never blamed God, she remained steadfast in her faith.” Punchline: God healed her. Because of her faith. Subtext: I still had my cancer because I didn’t have enough faith. Stupid me, I sometimes got pissed about being a seventeen-year old with terminal cancer.


“Turn it off, Mom.” The last thing I needed was some leader of a mega-church with stock in whitening strips telling me “if only I believed” my cancer would go away.
“Mom. Change it.” She didn’t. Tears pooled in her eyes, and she grabbed my hands. “Do you want to pray, honey?”


“No. I want you to change the channel.”


It took three hot seconds to end up where we always did when we fought—my poor decisions and her bad taste.


The radiologist turned off the TV. “Maybe you’d like to grab some coffee downstairs,” he said, as he grabbed my mom’s arm and escorted her out.


I never saw her again.


Alex, I’ll take “totally unfair” for $500, please.


10 thoughts on “I’ll Take “Totally Unfair” For $500, Alex

  1. I didn’t have the courage to try gu when I ran a half marathon because it looked awful and I thought I’d blow chunks. In my mind, it sounded like swallowing semen or something else equally disgusting. So ’nuff of that…what’s this about you and your mother?

  2. Obviously you had me at “watching my mother read her Nora Roberts.”

    But seriously, I don’t think I’m all the way healed from reading and watching The Fault In Our Stars, and this touched all the feelings.

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